Education.com
Try
Brainzy
Try
Plus

Verb Tense: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 3)

By
Updated on Aug 25, 2011

How Verb Tenses Convey Meaning

Managing verb tense carefully helps writers avoid the confusion that comes with thoughtless use. These examples illustrate how verb tense can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

    Example:

      Beth discovered that Nick had left work and gone home.
      Beth discovered that Nick had left work and went home.

In the first sentence, because gone is the participle form, it goes with had left in the second part of the sentence. So Nick is the one who had gone home. In the second sentence, went is in the simple past tense like discovered in the first part of the sentence. So this time, it's Beth who went home.

    Example:

      Cory told the officer that she had answered the phone and drank a can of soda pop.
      Cory told the officer that she had answered the phone and had drunk a can of soda pop.

In the first sentence, drank is in the same tense as told—they're both past tense. So Cory was drinking around the same time as she was telling. In the second sentence, had drunk matches had answered, so in this case, Cory was drinking around the time she answered the phone.

Have, not Of

When forming the various perfect tenses, people sometimes write of when they should write have, probably because they are writing what they hear. I should've (should've is a contraction of should have) sounds a lot like I should of. But the proper form in writing is have, not of.

    Wrong:
      I could of seen the difference if I had looked more closely.
    Correct:
      I could have seen the difference if I had looked more closely.
    Wrong:
      The park ranger should of warned the campers about the bears.
    Correct:
      The park ranger should have warned the campers about the bears.

Switching Verb Tenses

Sometimes, you have to switch from past tense to present to avoid implying an untruth.

    Wrong:

      I met the new technician. He was very personable. [What happened? Did he die?]

    Correct:

      I met the new technician. He is very personable.

    Wrong:

      We went to the new Italian restaurant on Vine last night. The atmosphere was wonderful. [What happened? Did it burn down during the night?]

    Correct:

      We went to the new Italian restaurant on Vine last night. The atmosphere is wonderful.

Even if a passage is written in past tense, a statement that continues to be true is written in present tense.

    Examples:

      During Galileo's time, few people believed [past] that the Earth revolves [present] around the sun.
      The building engineer explained [past] to the plumber that the pipes run [present] parallel to the longest hallway in the building.

Subjunctive Mood

When Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof sings, "If I were a rich man . . . ," he uses the verb were to signal that he is, in fact, not a rich man. Normally, the verb was would be used with the subject I, but were serves a special purpose. This is called the subjunctive were. It indicates a condition that is contrary to fact.

    Examples:

      If I were a cat, I could sleep all day long and never have to worry about work.
      If he were more attentive to details, he could be a copy editor.

Tip

Listen carefully to people today. Do you hear common errors such as "I could of gone out if I had done my work"? Once you make it a habit to listen for verb choice errors, you'll realize how many people make them. Some mistakes are so accepted that they might not sound strange at first. The more sensitive you are to grammatical errors, the less likely you'll be to make them yourself—in both writing and speaking.

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Verb Tense: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.

View Full Article
Add your own comment